Meet the Breed: The Saint Bernard

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Overview:

  • Height: 25.5"- 27.5”
  • Weight: 110-200 pounds
  • Historical function: Snow rescuers 
  • Modern function: Companion, service dog, movie star
  • AKC classification: Working

Physical Characteristics:

The St. Bernard is an enormous dog. Though most top out at 200 pounds, they have been known to be as much as 264 pounds. As long as the weight stays in proportion to the height, taller dogs are the most prized. The head is massive, powerful and slobbery. The muzzle is short and wide. The nose is wide and black with large nostrils. There is a furrow between the medium-sized dark eyes. The eyes often do not close entirely with a loose lower lid. The lips are black. The jaw is powerful and the teeth meet in a scissors or level bite. The ears are medium in size, are set high but drop, though slightly away from the head. The muscular body is slightly longer than it is tall at the withers. The legs are straight and strong. The tail is long and broad. Coat colors are usually tan, red or mahogany with white markings. A black mask or black shading may be present. Saint Bernards come in both a long and a short-coated version.     

History of the Breed:

The Saint Bernard, sometimes called the Alpine Mastiff, was developed at a hospice/monastery on a treacherous pass through the Alps between Italy and Switzerland. The pass was rarely snow free and these dogs were often employed to find stranded travelers. They also were companions to the monks. Breeds thought to have contributed to the breed include the Tibetan Mastiff, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, and the Great Dane. It is believed that the monks trained the dogs to work in pairs with one digging out the traveler stuck in an avalanche, rousing and warming the person, while the other would go for help back at the monastery  If the person could walk, they would be led back to the hospice by the dog. The original Saint Bernards were short haired, but after a particularly harsh season of winters with the dog population suffering great losses, experimental crosses with New Foundlands were done with the theory that the longer hair would insulate the dogs better. This proved to be disastrous as heavy ice would crust all over the dog and weigh them down to the point of being incapacitated. So only short-haired dogs were used for rescue work after that, but now long and short-haired varieties exist to this day.  

Temperament:

The Saint Bernard is a gentle giant. This trait was bred into them from the beginning as living in close quarters required a good temperament. Regardless, early and consistent socialization and training is a must simply because of the overwhelming size of this dog. Every family member must be the pack leader over this dog, which he desires, so he knows his role and expectations. They are slow moving, tolerant and obedient. They are very loyal and desire to please. They do make good watchdogs and their size is a deterrent even if the dog doesn't show any aggression. 

  • Best suited for: Active families who don't mind lots of hair, drool and love on a large scale. This dog does best in rural or suburban areas due to their size. Can do okay with apartment living if sufficiently exercised. Is relatively inactive indoors. 
  • Preferred living conditions: This dog does not tolerate heat well. Does best in cooler climates. 

Care and Health:

  • Grooming requirements: Shed happens with this breed, especially twice a year. Prepare your lifestyle to accommodate extra fiber in your diet and long brushing sessions. 
  • Exercise needs: Daily walk (make this dog heel and be under control from an early age.) Short walks are required before age two until the bones are fully developed to prevent injuries. 
  • Life expectancy: 8-10 years. 
  • Health concerns: May be prone to hip dysplasia, bloat and eye problems. 

Breed Club Links: The Saint Bernard Club of America

BaxterBoo.com Perfect Pairings: Top Performance Top and Tail Wipes

Have any stories about a Saint Bernard? Please share!

Photo courtesy of Haley Redshaw.

This entry was posted by Mary.
Char on September 16 at 10:19 AM said:

I have a gorgeous St. Bernard named Sofi. She is a gentle giant. My 10 year old grandson walks her and my 3 year old granddaughter has given her commands since she could talk. I took her to my daycatre daily for 2 years until she just took up too much room in my office. The children loved her. She would sit for 1-2 children to pet her but if more came up, she laid down so there was more of her available to pet. We go to an area petstore that allows pets. It takes us 20 minutes to make it to the 1st isle with all the people stopping to pet and comment on her. She loves attention and when someone stops to pet her and visit, she immediately lays down and tries to remove her nose collar. This is something that always draws comments and petting as she tries to pull it off her nose. In actuality she can pull it off anytime she choses and does so at home. Unfortunately Sofi has Osteosarcoma. We discovered it early and amputated her leg. She does great on 3 legs. She handled chemo well and now we are living each day hoping we have slowed the cancer for a long time. She still does hand shaking and high 5's with her amputated leg and she still jumps into the back of my small suv though I make her go down a ramp. We still walk in our neighborhood and the park although not as far as before. If I ever get another dog it will be a St. Bernard. I have always had dogs and loved them all, but there is definitely something special about a St. Bernard.
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